Meet McLaren’s vision for the future of motorsport technology.

A concept car like no other, this is the McLaren MP4-X, a glimpse into the future of motorsport. Harnessing the most cutting-edge, avant-garde technological solutions that exist in the world, it is a race car that could exist in the distant future. How? Because the tech applied to the MP4-X is real, and while some of elements may be in the earliest stage of conception, McLaren Applied Technologies (the sister company to McLaren Automotive) is at the forefront of such developments.

With the futuristic McLaren MP4-X concept race car, we wanted to peer into the future and imagine the art of the possible,’ says John Allert, Group Brand Director at the McLaren Technology Group. ‘We have combined a number of the key ingredients from Formula 1™ – speed, excitement and performance – with the sport’s emerging narratives – such as enclosed cockpits to enhance driver safety, and hybrid power technologies. Formula 1™ is the ultimate gladiatorial sport, and the future we envisage will be a high-tech, high-performance showcase that excites fans like no other sport.’

The MP4-X is visually striking in its quest for ultimate aero performance, but it is beneath the skin where the changes are most apparent: it is designed to harness alternative power sources; the chassis changes shape to adapt to different aerodynamic demands; and it can communicate in the event of a failure or a problem.

Future Grand Prix cars like the McLaren MP4-X will spearhead the development of future road technologies, and the flow of innovative discoveries will also travel in the other direction, transferring lessons learnt on the road to the racetrack. Here we uncover the technology at the heart of the McLaren MP4-X…

McLaren MP4-X: Powertrain and regenerative systems

McLaren Applied Technologies’ work with advanced hybrid motors and electronic management systems has been showcased in the Formula E race series, using a power unit derived from the motor found in the McLaren P1™. But the MP4-X explores the next generation of electrical power technology.

Solar cells would allow for solar energy capture during daylight races and, coupled with existing forms of regenerative recovery, be deployed as a boost option. Additional recharging using inductive coupling built into the racetrack could lead to more sustainable racing, and new ‘thin batteries’ would be distributed throughout the vehicle, rather than energy being stored in concentrated areas.


McLaren MP4-X: Active aerodynamics and ground-effect

The appearance of the MP4-X is dramatic, but it would be even more incredible when driven at speed. Electrodes fitted to the surface of the car’s wings would electronically control the bodywork, creating a high-downforce setting for cornering, and instantly changing to a low-drag configuration on the straights. To achieve this, the MP4-X would be fitted with advanced, adaptive shape-memory alloys, which, when an electrical current passes through them, change shape under specific loads or particular conditions.

We looked at what technologies might be useful on a future road car,’ reveals Geoff McGrath, Chief Innovation Officer at McLaren Applied Technologies. 'Achieving lower drag for fuel-saving would be extremely useful, and sensor-driven control systems could adapt the wing, shaping local contours to match performance behaviours when required on track.’

Furthermore, with the advanced powertrain and regenerative systems removing the need for a large internal combustion engine and neighbouring fuel tank positioned close to the floor, the entire underbody of the MP4-X is open to considerable aero exploitation. Tear up the rulebook, which banned ground effect in Formula 1™ in 1982, and huge venturi tunnels beneath the floor would create a massively powerful aerodynamic effect. 

McLaren MP4-X: Wheel-mounted tyre-pressure and wear-measuring sensors

McLaren already uses wheel-mounted tyre-pressure sensors, but an additional wear sensor would enable Pirelli’s engineers to live-monitor tyre data, crucial to reducing blow-outs. With the telemetry interrogated in real-time, dangerous delaminations could even be predicted and prevented before they occur.

The MP4-X’s wheel covers have an aero benefit,’ explains Tim Strafford, Head of Business Development at McLaren Applied Technologies. ‘But because the wheel is now fully encased, they also offer far greater visualisation of what the tyre is doing and how it’s behaving. It provides the perfect opportunity to map the entire surface of the tyre with wear and temperature sensors'.

There is performance advantage as well. Powering themselves, the wheel-mounted tyre-pressure sensors would feed data to an on-board ECU and, working in conjunction with a pressure regulator unit, could automatically adjust the tyres to achieve optimum traction throughout a race.


McLaren MP4-X: The chassis

Driver safety is paramount in Formula 1™, so impact-prone and safety-critical areas of the car could make use of advances such as negative-stiffness material structures. These not only have the ability to reduce the forces of an impact, but have the resilience to recover their original shape and properties, making them extremely effective in multiple-impact events where they are still able to provide protection.

Utilising the experience McLaren Applied Technologies has gained deploying its advanced remote-condition understanding technology to real-time drilling operations in the North Sea, the MP4-X would monitor the car’s structural condition. In the event or a failure or an impact, the car would be able to provide information and data, to enable engineers to more quickly understand what had happened.

McLaren MP4-X: Within the cockpit

Just as the MP4-X is constantly monitoring itself, so the driver would be constantly monitored too – to assist with hydration levels, improve concentration, and understand energy levels and stress intensity. The driver’s overalls would include smart fabrics with a mixture of conductive, energy-harvesting and energy-storing fabrics, and would also feature in-built bio sensors. In the event of an accident, the suit would display areas of impact trauma or injury to assist medical teams with a primary assessment.

Cameras fitted to the MP4-X would feed imagery back to the driver’s helmet, creating an augmented 360° display, effectively allowing them to ‘see through walls’ – much like the systems employed in modern fighter jets. An additional heads-up display (HUD) would provide the driver with sensory cues to alert him to important events in the race, such as the position of competitors, flag and caution data, or the location of accidents and debris.

Expanding on technology developed by McLaren Applied Technologies in partnership with GSK, vehicle system control of the MP4-X could be achieved by monitoring the electrical signals within the driver’s brain. There is even the theoretical possibility of a vehicle with no physical controls at all, which would make use of visual gesture control systems or holographic instrument panels. That means no steering wheel, and the MP4-X controlled by the driver’s brain alone.

And for the audience watching at the racetrack or at home, the MP4-X would feature a visual system synced entirely with the driver’s point of view – enabling viewers to experience exactly what’s happening inside the cockpit. 






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